HALL OF MIRRORS

COVERDISPLAYS.1         What is Chris to make of a complete stranger calling him ‘Alex’ and addressing him like an old friend? When Chris finally meets Alex, it is like looking in a mirror—he could be Alex’s twin. But Alex is not a nice guy. The Windwalkers discover he has a dark past—violence, robbery, drug trafficking, and murder. To complicate matters, Alex has true identical twin, Max, who is a nice guy and a star basketball player on his high school’s basketball team. So Alex, Max and Chris are triplets. The Hall of Mirrors, a concession at the amusement park, becomes the focus of where Chris and Max confront Alex. With identical images of the three swirling on all sides, Chris must find a way to save himself and Max from the catastrophe Alex has planned for them.

Chick on the cover to buy the book.

Read part of Chapter 1 of Hall of Mirrors:

Chapter 1
          That Sunday afternoon when it all started, the three of them—Chris, Nick and Donny—were at Donny Di Marco’s house, working on Nick’s ancient Volkswagen. Nick Harper had blown his summer job pay on a JL Audio car sound system. They decided to install it at Donny’s house because Donny’s dad had a work shop with every conceivable tool, including a cylindrical reamer. Nick, wild black hair above goggles amid a shower of sparks and a stink of smoke and hot metal, reamed out holes for the speakers. After the hardware was in place, Chris Creighton forced his skinny body under the dashboard and connected wires and cables. He had the magic sense about where wires go and how to make good electrical contacts. Donny, an observer and kibitzer, twisted his ball cap on backwards, went in the house and brought out four Snickers bars, saying “A reward for our hard work.” When finished, Chris squeezed himself out and said, “Okay, fire it up.” Nick tapped his phone and to no one’s surprise, Bono blasted out with All You Can’t Leave Behind. The VW pulsed in sync with the beat.
.         The Di Marco house sat on a hillside overlooking 40 acres of grapevines, the plants brought over from the Lazio region of central Italy by Donny’s father when he was a young man. As the three sat on a bench listening to the Irish rock, Donny passed out the Snickers bars, one to himself, one to Nick and two to Chris. He winked at Chris. “A prize for making it work the first time we turned it on.”
.          “Hey!” said Nick. “It’s my car. My Audio. I did the reaming. That ought to be worth at least an extra Snickers.”
.         “It’s not your car,” said Chris, putting one bar in his shirt pocket, and zapping off the wrap of the other. He took a big bite. “It was a junker, remember that? You and I worked on it together to make it run. Just ‘cause you park it at your house doesn’t make it all yours.”
.         They’d been over this back-and-forth enough times that a soft punch on Chris’s arm by Nick ended it. After that, they fell into silence as the rock flooded their senses.
.         From his perch on the bench Chris could see all the way to the town of Winter Gardens. The white steeple of the Presbyterian church in the center of town peeked above the trees. Dark clouds lined the horizon, incoming westerlies over the ocean off San Diego. In the foreground, the grape leaves of the Di Marco vineyard looked lush and were turning a golden brown. He realized a lot of credit for that went to Donny who had spent the past summer cultivating and irrigating the vines, bringing them to this promising harvest. Chris took it all in, an eternal photo for his memory. Summer was gone and the air had a crispness to it, a harbinger of fall. His junior high school year at Bostonia High was underway.
.         Chris was startled when Donny jumped up. “What’s that?”
.         “What’s what?” said Nick.
.         “Down there on the road.”
.         Nick leaned forward. “Don’t see nothing.”
.         Donny stood staring. “Somebody’s in our grapes. They just climbed through the fence.”
.         Chris could make out a figure moving through the grapes toward the driveway. There was a flash of red as the sun caught the guy’s hair. “Yeah, I see him,” said Chris. “You know what? There’s a bike by the fence. Whoever that is, rode a bike.”
.         Chris was surprised when Donny reached over, grabbed the Snickers bar out of his pocket, then bolted down winding Di Marco driveway. He cut through the vineyard toward the guy with red hair standing amid the grapes. When Donny came up to whoever it was, they stood in front of each other for a few long seconds. Then they gave each other high fives, not once but twice.
.         “Who’s that?” said Nick.
.         Chris could think of only one guy that had red hair like that. But he was long gone. “Not sure.”
.         The two distant figures continued to stand in the grapes, then gave each other another high five. Red hair hiked back to where his bike leaned against the fence and Donny jogged up the driveway toward his house.
.         “Let’s go,” said Chris. “Let’s see what’s up.”
.         When they met Donny, Nick asked, “Who’s that?”
Donny was breathless. “Billy Brogan. He’s back. I’m going to meet him.” Donny pulled his Cannondale bike out of the shed.
.         Chris jumped in front of the bike, grabbed the handle bars, held the bike motionless. “Come on, Donny. He’s been gone for what? Two years. Where’s he staying.”
.         “Leggo, Chris!” Donny swung the handle bars back and forth, but he couldn’t dislodge   Chris. “He’s back living in his old house. You know. Out by the interstate.”
.         Chris frowned. “The Castle? Donny! That’s been empty since the Brogans moved out. Nobody lives there.”
.         “That’s what he said. That’s all I know. I’ll see you guys.”
.         “Hey, look,” said Nick, “we’ll go in style in my Bug. We can listen to Bono on the way. Put your bike away.”
.         “You come if you want. Leggo, Chris. I’m going on my bike.”
.         Chris stepped out of the way, and Donny kicked off. Chris watched him ride down the driveway, then onto the road, meeting Billy Brogan , and the two rode off together.
.        “The Castle?” said Nick. “How can he be living in the Castle?”
.         “He can’t,” said Chris. “No way to get in. Must be camping out there or something.”
.         “Maybe he broke in.”
.        “Yeah. Maybe.”
.       Chris heard a screen door slam, and Mr. Di Marco, Donny’s dad, appeared. “I been watching you work out a the window,” he said, smiling. “Very professional. You could go into the business. But where’s Donny? Saw him ride off on his bike.”
.         Chris cleared his throat. “Met a friend, Mr. Di Marco. He just took off.”
.         “What’d he do? Just ride away and leave all these tools for you to put away?”
.         “We’ll stash ‘em,” said Nick. “We know where everything goes.”
.         “And rake up this place where you been working. There’s metal pieces scattered around. Someone could get a flat tire here. Maybe you, Nick.”
.         “Yes sir.”
.         After they got the place cleaned up, Chris said, “Let’s drive out to the Castle. Hard to believe Billy Brogan is living there. It looks like the proverbial Halloween haunted house.”
.         The Castle was on Los Coches Road, less than a mile from its exit off Interstate 8. It was set back with a circular driveway leading to a wide veranda across the front Two towers sat at each corner of the front of the house, each three stories high with windows looking out at each floor level. A conical roof capped each tower, making them look like twin sky rockets ready to carry the house off to the moon. When the Brogans had lived there, Ms. Brogan planted roses in the area contained inside the circular drive. But now the rose bushes were dead skeletons and weeds had taken over. Chris remembered the sweet smell of those roses from long ago, and as Nick pulled the VW into the driveway, the sight of the dead bushes gave him a twinge of sadness.
.         “There’s Donny’s bike,” said Nick, pointing .
.         The front door of the Castle was wide open. Nick leaped up the stairs onto the wide veranda. “Anybody here?” called Nick into the open door.
.         As Chris entered the doorway, he was struck by a musty stink. He turned and made a wry face at Nick. But then Donny appeared at the top of the third floor stairs accompanied by the red-headed Billy Brogan. “Hey, guys,” came Donny’s response. “Come on up.”
.         Chris climbed the stairs, each step on the bare wood echoed throughout the cavernous foyer. It gave Chris a creepy feeling. The foyer was three stories high with a white-painted dome on top. The great room was cast in shadows except for the front door and a door on the third floor which seemed lit by the sun.
.         It was Billy, all right. That face. That hadn’t changed. Same red curly hair and blue piercing eyes. But he was broader and a lot taller. Chris remembered him as a little kid , but in the intervening two years he had grown into a young guy who Chris thought had seen a lot of the world. It showed in his set mouth and the unblinking eyes that stared back at Chris. But then the set mouth changed into a grin and his husky voice said, “Should a known if the dago was here, you two would be tagging along.”
.          Chris said, “So where’s your folks, Billy. They coming back here?”
.         “They’re in South Dakota. It’s just me that’s here.”
.         “South Dakota! So how’d you get here?”
.        “It’s my brother. He wasn’t right in the head. He got crazier and crazier. So one night, I snuck out of the house and started walking. Had a backpack with some clothes and a water bottle. Hitched when trucks came along, and one picked me up. That’s how I got here.”
.         “Wow,” said Nick. “But you were on a bike today. Where’d that come from?”
.         “It’s the same one I had when we lived here. My old Raleigh. It was in the garage and nobody touched it after we left.”
.         Chris said, “So you’re alone here?”
.         “Not alone. There’s another guy here with me. Name’s Gil. Cool cat. Wears a purple bandana. I met him on my last ride and we got off at Los Coches together.”
.         Nick grinned. “So he’s here in the Castle too?”
.         “Yep. I’m in that bedroom over there,” he said pointing to the door with the sun behind it. “Gil’s staying in a bedroom in the other tower.”
.         “Hey, Billy,” said Nick. “You still into that punk rock group, Goldblade?”
.         “Take a look,” said Billy, pointing to his room. They all walked in. For Chris it was déjà vu. The Goldblade posters were on the wall. Billy, grinning, pulled an iPod from his pocket, and the sounds of Goldblade’s 16 Tons rocked the room.
.         Chris said, “So how’d you get in the Castle? It’s been locked real solid.”
.         Billy smiled. “Broke in through a window in the back.”
.         Chris winked at Nick. “Yeah. Nick guessed maybe you did that. Wow. What a story. Hitched all the way from South Dakota. This guy Gil. Like he’s in high school?” asked Nick.
.         “Probably not. Gil’s older. Said he’s done with school.”
.         “And what about you, Billy? You still got a year or two left in school.”
.         “Definitely want to go. I need you guy’s help with that.”
.         Chris asked, “So did you go to school in South Dakota?”
.         “Sure did. Every day. Needed to get out of our house. Away from my crazy brother.”
.         Chris gave him a thumb’s up. “Tomorrow, you meet us at the bus stop in town. It’s at the Shell Station where Los Coches comes into town. We’ll help you get signed in.”
.         “Yeah,” said Donny. “Ride your bike in. That’s what I do. We’ll chain them together at the bike rack.”
.         “Don’t you ride to school in that VW out front?”
.         “Naw,” said Nick. “School’s ten miles away. Don’t have that kind of gas money. We ride the bus.”
.         Chris asked,“So where’s this other guy, Gil?”
.         “Gil? He’s got my bike. Went into town to look around.”
.         “So where’d you run into him?”
.         “On the road. My last hitch was on a bus. He was on it. We got off together at Los Coches.”
.         “He’s not weird or anything, is he?” asked Nick.
.         “No way. Real friendly. You’ll like him.”
.         “So where’s he from?” asked Chris.
.         “He said he’s a surfer. I think he came from Florida. Said he wanted to try surfing in California.”
.        Chris frowned. “Winter Gardens is thirty miles from the ocean. If he wants to surf, he ought to be at the beach like La Jolla or Del Mar. Not here.”
.         Billy shrugged, then said, “So, you still call yourselves the Windwalkers?”
.         “Windwalkers forever,” said Donny. That’s us three. Till the world comes to an end.”
.         “Windwalkers?” asked a voice Chris didn’t recognize. Standing in the doorway was a skinny guy in worn jeans and a heavy blue short sleeve shirt, showing a red and blue tat on his upper right arm. His hair was wrapped in a purple bandana.“What’s Windwalkers?
.         Billy grinned. “Hey Gil. Don’t ask. It’s their secret society.”
.         But Gil was fixated on Chris. Wide-eyed, he looked at him. He said to Chris: “Alex?”
.         Total silence as they stared at Gil. Gil frowned and a look of fear crossed his face as he continued to fixate on Chris. “Alex? How . . . how the hell’d you find me?”
.         Nick stepped forward. “What you talking about, dude? He’s Chris.”
.         But Gil didn’t hear. He had a penetrating stare. “Look, Alex. . .. I had to get out of there! I had no choice.”
.         Billy frowned. “Hey, Gil? Who’s Alex?”
.         Chris backed off like the force of the stare pushed him away. “Look, man, you got me mixed up with some other dude. Check this out. I’m not any Alex.”
.         Gil shook his head as if trying to clear it. He grabbed Chris’s arm and pushed his sleeve up. .         “What the hell?” said Chris, recoiling, pulling his arm out of Gil’s grasp.
.         “Sorry, man,” said Gil. You’re not him. He’s got a star tat on his arm. But you sure look like him.”
.         Chris felt queasy. Wondered if this guy was nuts. “So who’s Alex?”
.         “Just a guy I know. Your hair. That’s what I saw right away. Just the same. Same color. Real yellow. You even comb it the same way.”
.         “Just like Dennis the Menace,” laughed Donny.
.         Nick lunged for Donny. “Shut up, Donny! What else?”
.         Gil squinted. “Your face. Almost the same. Real weird. But you’re not as tall. Not as big.”
.         Chris scrunched up his face in distaste. “Look, Gil. You’re freaking me out.” He looked to Nick for help, found none. “I think it’s weird that you think I look like somebody else. Maybe you just don’t remember so good.”
.         “Okay, okay,” said Gil, putting up his hands, backing off. He still had his eye zoomed in on Chris, like he was trying to see all sides of his face.
.         Donny stood by Billy. “So who’s this Alex?”
.         Gil finally broke his gaze, backed away, blinked. “Just a guy. Somebody I left behind.”
.         “Left behind? Where?” said Donny.
.        Gil hesitated, then said “Florida.”
.         Nick said, “Is Alex still in Florida?”
.         “Yeah,” came a weak response.
.         Chris felt like someone had hit him in the gut. He crossed his arms across his stomach. A long hesitation. He said, “You just said to me, ‘I had to get out of there! I had no choice’ I just heard you say that, dude. What did you mean by that?”
.         Gil gave a fluttering laugh. “Oh, nothing. Don’t know why I said that.”
.         Chris pressed on. “Come on, dude. Don’t play games. Get out of where?”
.         Chris could tell he’d opened a door that Gil sure didn’t want to walk through. Gil tried to find words, but there were none. Finally, Gil turned to Nick. “I came here to get in some California surfing. Heard La Jolla was good. Where’s that?”
.         Nick looked to Chris. Chris wanted to end this stupid conversation. He nodded to Nick. Nick said, “Too rocky there. Either north at Carlsbad or south at Mission Beach. That’s where Chris’s folks have a beach house.”
.         Donny added, “And they’ve got a neat sail boat, too.”
.         A lighting strike hit Chris. Damn! You guys, shut up! Don’t want this guy to know anything about our beach house or the boat.
.         “No kidding?” said Gil. Love sailing. Were’d you get a boat?”
.         Chris didn’t want to continue. But if he didn’t answer, Donny would. “My dad bought it eons ago.”
.         Donny added, “His dad got it when he was a little kid, like five years old. Right Chris?”
.         “Yeah. That boat has always kinda been there.”
.         Gil continued, “ Love the ocean. Love sailing and I love surfing too. Can stay on my board no matter how big the wave. That’s what I did in Florida. Daytona Beach. There’s surfing schools there I worked for. I made money teaching little kids how to ride a board. But I decided I needed to see the rest of the surfing world, so I headed for California.”
.         Chris couldn’t resist probing. “Did Alex work at those surfing schools too?”
.         The mention of Alex knocked Gil off center. He stuttered a yeah. He smiled. But Chris knew the smile was a mask. “Hey look,” Gil said, “Got to take off for a while. I got to get wheels. The bike’s not enough. I checked out a used car lot in town. There’s an old Escort there I can get pretty cheap. I’ll see you guys later.”
.         You want my bike again?” asked Donny.
.         “Not this time. I’ll leg it. Not that far.” He turned to leave.
.         “What year’s the Escort?” asked Nick.
.         “Ten years back.”
.         “That Escort’s going to cost you big bucks.”
.         Gil patted his pocket. “I can handle it.” a hurry, he disappeared out the door.